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Optimizing your Investments in Technology by Avoiding the Distractions

By Greg Driscoll, Sr. VP, Service Operations and CIO, The Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company

Greg Driscoll, Sr. VP, Service Operations and CIO, The Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company

As the chief information officer of a national life insurance company, I receive calls every day from an array of technology vendors pitching their own version of “next generation, cutting edge” capabilities coming to “enhance your company’s bottom line” or “disrupt the business landscape.” These claims are often without any insight into my company’s strategic direction, opportunities or challenges.

In other words, most of these claims are baseless, but it does raise the challenge of how to filter out the value-adding investment opportunities from the rest of the noise. Sifting through the countless different vendors, technologies and add-ons is enough to give one whiplash.

As eye-catching as they may be, it’s imperative to avoid the distractions and not get bogged down in solutions or technologies that do not align with and deliver the needs of your business. Many of these new capabilities will do little to advance long-term business capabilities and objectives. In that light, here are some tips to help you avoid these distractions and ultimately leverage technology to advance your organizational strategy:

1. Striking a Balance between Operation and Innovation

With so much new technology hitting the market every day and the incessant drum-beat of the next must have, the temptation to focus solely on the innovation of your organization’s capabilities can be difficult to resist. However, this mindset can lead you to neglect the less exciting needs your company relies upon as the backbone of its day-to-day operations. The result of such an approach could lead to a fractured technical foundation and, in turn, stifle your innovation opportunity. Building new capabilities on an unstable operating infrastructure serves no one well. Striking the balance between operating today and investing in tomorrow is essential to any business.

"Striking the balance between operating today and investing in tomorrow is essential to any business"

I approach this balance by engaging associates from across the organization. While continuing to drive the change needed to compete in tomorrow’s economy, I continue to stay close to the capabilities that are delivering today’s results. I recommend spending time work shadowing and see how stakeholders— either internal associates or external customers of your organization utilize the services being delivered. This outside-in view can yield surprising observations, identify quick wins and help in refining strategic investment.

2. Keep Your Clients, Internal and External, Top of Mind

Maybe it’s a client, your associates or some other stakeholder. The capabilities that technology provides to individuals that are advancing your business strategy must be kept at the top of the mind before investing in a new capability. For us, creating an experience that is smooth and elegant for our advisers and their clients to engage with each other, apply for a new policy, and provide a seamless service model is a top priority. But instead of starting the discussion on technology, every decision we make starts and ends with the client in mind. Understand your opportunity and the technology decisions become easier. How will this new capability be used? Can we answer a client question before it is even asked? How will the new technology be perceived by our advisers and their clients? How will we create two-way communication channels throughout the rollout? This line of questioning focused around the end user will keep your organization’s decision makers on target when considering new capabilities. It’s about the people, not the technology.

3. Maintain Balance between Humans and Technology

It can be easy for CIOs to be caught with tunnel vision when it comes to Information Technology. However, it’s important to consider technology’s role within the context of the broader corporation. Don’t lose sight of the human element. In life insurance, technology is merely part of creating a better client experience, augmenting and supporting the human adviser. Our focus in technology today revolves around facilitating dialogue and interaction, both digitally and through human relationships. Despite making tremendous strides throughout the past decade, computer algorithms are still challenged to answer life’s tough questions, especially when it comes to the emotional aspects of financial decisions. Make sure the value of your technology doesn’t get in the way of your associates’ ability to contribute. We will never force a policy owner to a website to answer a complex question or address an uncertainty. Instead, we provide service with empathetic and knowledgeable associates. Many firms will benefit from a balance of digital and human capabilities.

4. Align Investment in Technology with Strategic Company Goals

Companies have limited resources to allocate to technology, and deciding where to distribute these resources can be a major point of contention. At our organization, we have adopted the mantra of aligning the investments in technology with the strategic goals of the company to help guide these decisions. This process starts by identifying business objectives and the capabilities needed to achieve those objectives. For us, a smooth user experience and the ability to put data to work through strong data management and service oriented architectures are high priorities. A strong data platform allows us to move with great flexibility and nimbleness.

Remember all those vendor solutions? In navigating the emerging technology landscape, we keep a simple orientation— if we feel a new capability can drive high value through improvement in the adviser and client experience or drive strong efficiency, we listen. If a new technology doesn’t directly relate to our objectives, we pass. Ask yourself; is the juice worth the squeeze?

Final word of advice

The best CIOs are also the best listeners. Whether it’s the CEO of your organization, or an associate working in the call center, keep your ears and eyes open to input and advice. Leadership will craft and articulate the strategic direction of the company; however your client-facing associates often have the best lens to know the temperature of your customers.

I make it a point to leave my office door open, schedule lunches with associates from across all areas, and bounce ideas off of everyone across the organization. By keeping your mind open to new perspectives and avoiding the distractions of the day, you can take your technological capabilities, and in turn, your organizational results to the next level.